To best understand Neek Bucks is to understand his intentions properly. The proud Harlem native is the prime example of someone who made it out of his environment, but wants to give back. Tales of such determination were first introduced to us on his 2018 debut project El Barrio but are more prominent than ever via his latest release, Neighborhood Hov (Feb. 19).
And as eye-grabbing as that title is, it makes sense why Neek chose it in the first place. “What Hov [Jay-Z] means to the culture of hip-hop and other things is what I mean to my neighborhood or the streets,” Neek tells Billboard. “When I speak, they listen.”
The 26-year-old MC has become a familiar name associated with the recent revival of New York’s rap scene, and for a good reason. In between his vivid storytelling of growing up in Harlem, collaborating with the likes of Benny The Butcher, Dave East, and Lil Durk, and naturally expanding his sound, Neek has only elevated himself within a short time. But what Neighborhood Hov means to Neek is greater than releasing a new body of work.
Besides being his first full-length release in two years, the Harlem native recognized the need for a shift in his music while also embracing a new role away from it: being a Dad. “My daughter is who I do it for,” Neek says. “Everything I said on the outro of this project (“FIRST LOVE, PT 2”) is always on my mind, and I was inspired to do that. I’m willingly opening myself up to the world with my music.”
Throughout the entirety of Neighborhood Hov, we hear Neek trade verses with Benny the Butcher (“Pain”), share stories with G-Herbo (“Default”), and croon to the ladies with Lil Tjay (“Fly Away) without him ever sounding out of place at all. With the release of his 12-track effort, honesty is becoming Neek’s calling card.
Following Neighborhood Hov’s release, Neek Bucks spoke to Billboard about his new project, why Jay-Z inspires him, how he found his place within NY’s evolving rap scene and more.
While various people have different views of Jay-Z, it’s much different from those who grew up in New York watching him. In what way did he influence you most?
It was mainly from a business standpoint. To become the mogul he became was very encouraging to watch, especially to a fellow New Yorker. Hov is still the top guy out here, so who else footsteps to follow?
It had been a couple of years since we heard your last project, El Barrito 2. What impacted the making of Neighborhood Hov?
It was COVID-19 and this pandemic, to be honest. It forced me to reinvent myself and closely study those who came before me. I gained a greater understanding of what a great project and songs are supposed to sound like, so then I tapped into different bags while recording the new music. I was in a different space with this project, and it shows, especially because I spent over a year working on it.
There’s been an ongoing conversation regarding the status of artists, who are either “project artists” or “singles artists.” Which side do you believe you fall on?
Although I value delivering a strong body of work, as that’s my strong point, I genuinely believe I’m a mix of both. I know I can give you both, and I aspire to do that.
As you saw your profile rise in recent years, what has been your greatest lesson learned?
That hard work pays off. There were many times when I didn’t know if this would work, despite always working on my craft, but it felt good seeing it pay off. Especially when folks know you, and the next thing you know, you’re working with Lil Durk and G-Herbo. It’s a great feeling.
Being a New York artist, you know of the shared thought that you guys don’t work together enough. Yet, you’ve collaborated with Benny The Butcher, Dave East, Lil Tjay, and Stunna Gambino. Does that prove New York artists can work together more often?
Absolutely! It’s just a matter of us remembering that we’re New York, a.k.a. the place that started this [hip-hop culture]. We have to understand that, expand our vision, and keep it going, so everyone else knows what’s up. For me, I’m able to tap in with all sorts of artists, whether they’re new or established. I bring in good energy and find a way to make it work.
Is it easy for you to find that balance of wanting to make sure your collaboration works out for everyone while still doing the best?
Oh, yeah, because I’m an observant and genuine person. As long as you bring good energy and don’t pose a threat, then you should be fine. But with that said, people know what I come to do [Laughs]. I care about making the best music and making sure we’re good.
Throughout Neighborhood Hov, the listener could identify 50 Cent and Nipsey Hussle’s clear influences without it taking away from you. How much of those two artists influenced you, if that’s the case?
It’s quite a bit. When it comes to 50, that will always be there being a ‘90s baby growing up in New York. I was born in ‘94.
Nice. I was born in ‘93.
Oh, word? So you have to be a 50 fan, too, because that was our guy. [Laughs.] At the least, 50 was one of those artists we followed while beginning to understand music at an older age. As a matter of fact, 50 was the reason I picked up a pen. When it comes to Nipsey, I actually had the chance to connect with him before he passed away. I loved what he stood for — and as he would say, the marathon continues. I have to continue spreading his message.